A Great Public School for All Children

For the past four and a half years, Eduflack has written about education reform.  What is working.  What is not.  How successful are we communicating our efforts to improve our public schools.  For the most part, I’ve done so from the cheap seats, observing from the sidelines, watching through the eyes of an observer, a consultant, or an advisor.

This morning, ConnCAN (the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now) formally announced me as its new CEO.  This is a tremendously exciting opportunity.  For years now, I have seen ConnCAN as the gold standard in state-based education advocacy organizations.  From its school report cards to its reports to its community engagement and advocacy, ConnCAN has demonstrated a clear path for how a state (and a nation) can provide a great public school for all children.
More importantly, ConnCAN isn’t shy about tackling the tough issues.  Many organizations in the education sector often struggle with the question of whether it is better to lose big or win small.  Over the years, ConnCAN has been able to win big on issues that matter to real families and real communities.  And its “no fear” attitude allows it to advocate for bigger and more significant agendas each and every year, priorities that can directly impact our communities and our economies.
Through recent efforts, the organization has made clear that the status quo in public education simply cannot stand.  If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, improving opportunities, and providing a great public education to all students, we must take bold steps.  Tinkering around the edges will not cut it.  Real change demands real action.  And that means implementing a school funding formula that addresses the needs of today and tomorrow, not the expectations of the past.  It means a great focus on teacher quality, where every student — regardless of race, socio-economic status, or zip code — has educators who are effective and supported.  And it means a community that is united in its vision to improve the quality of public education for all, recognizing there are NO excuses for achievement and instructional gaps.
I am incredibly fortunate to be working with such a terrific team, each and every one committed to bringing real change and real improvement to our public schools.  I am incredibly fortunate to work with a board equally committed to such improvement.  And I am honored to be working with a network of advocates, friends, partners, teachers, parents, and policymakers all dedicated to improving our schools and charting new, more effective paths to lasting school improvement. 
As the son of educators, I was raised to believe that there was nothing more important than a good education.  Through organizations like ConnCAN, we can clearly see how fixing our schools is possible and the social, economic, and community benefits that come from such a commitment. 

The ESEA Doomsday Scenario

After years of “will they/won’t they.” it appears the U.S. Department of Education is finally ready to move forward with its Plan B for reforming No Child Left Behind.  In a release sent out over the weekend for public consumption today, ED announced its intention to “fix” NCLB.  The announcement can be found here, courtesy of Politico.  Also note the Politico story on the matter.

Back in June, when EdSec Arne Duncan first raised the possibility of a regulatory Plan B for reauthorization, Eduflack was one of the few that actually saw it as a possibility/good idea.  Since then, little has changed.  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) is still primarily focused on the higher ed side of the education coin.  House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (MN) is still looking to break ESEA into small chunks that can be consumed by members of his committee.  And the education space, as a whole, is still demanding real changes to components of the current law, most notably the accountability provisions (the dreaded AYP).
So with Duncan long promising reauthorization before the start of a new school year (and Eduflack still believes such reauthorization can happen, before the start of the 2013 school year), the EdSec had to act.  And he seems to be acting from the best script he could find, using terms like “flexibility, reform at state and local level, bridge.”  And for good measure, Duncan and White House DPC Director Melody Barnes are even tying these moves to “America’s future competitiveness.”
In the public statement, Barnes even makes not of accountability flexibility provisions coming down the pike, with each and every state in the union having the opportunity to “apply” and “succeed” for states seeking “flexibility” with regard to accountability.
Suffice it to say, this morning’s announcement will likely not go over well with Congress.  Many will see this as an end run around our legislative branch, essentially giving the executive branch the power to make law, at least with regard to ESEA.  But we’ve been waiting on congressional reauthorization of ESEA since 2007.  It is now 2011.  If Duncan and company are prepared to live with NCLB as it is mostly written, and make a few changes to address specific issues or concerns from states and localities, it is their prerogative to give it a go.  It will then be Congress’ job to either codify those changes or reverse them.
Duncan is one again declaring “game on,” trying to make education a central focus of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy agenda.  While few can think that weakening the accountability provisions is a sexy issue that will capture the hearts and minds of voters, it is a move that is responsive to a particular constituency, demonstrates a real change from the previous administration, and shows some leadership with regard to education policy.  Only time will tell if such an approach is effective, both in addressing the growing challenges in our schools and as a means of jumpstarting some real K-12 action in Congress.

Cheatin’ on Peach Tree Street

The big edu-news of the week has to be the ever-evolving cheating scandal down in Atlanta.  The allegations had already brought down a superintendent of the year, one who was once rumored to be on the short list for U.S. Secretary of Education.  The report released by the Georgia governor notes cheating in 80 percent of the schools reviewed, with 178 teachers and 38 principals named in the scheme.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the full story here.

Critics are quick to use this scandal to condemn testing and accountability in general, stating that our high-stakes, AYP era made these educators act the way they did.  They had no choice.  With high expectations, they had to use any means necessary to demonstrate student proficiency.  If that meant erasing a number of bubbles in the name of APS’ reputation, then so be it.
And it isn’t like this is the only incident of district-wide cheating we’ve heard of in recent years.  There is the current investigation in Baltimore.  And who can forget the huge expose that USA Today did on potential cheating in Washington, DC.  
There is a difference, though, beyond the scale of the allegations.  In DC and Baltimore, folks were quick to condemn the leadership for taking shortcuts.  And we were quick to remind people that those districts were headed by upstart “reformers” looking to change the way we teach.  So in their quest to demonstrate their model works, of course they would do whatever it took to post student gains, right?
But Atlanta paints a very different picture.  Superintendent Hall is the very model of a status quo superintendent.  Her tenure in Atlanta surpasses just about any current urban superintendent.  She’s part of the old guard, and was regularly put forward as an example that one doesn’t have to blow up the central office and preach reform to generate the sort of student achievement numbers most urban districts only dream about.  So if there is some malfeasance, it must be the devil’s work.  It must be the doing of that dear ol’ mephistopheles known as NCLB/AYP. 
There is never a good reason why a school or district should engage in systematic cheating on assessments.  Even with the best of intentions, such actions only serve to destroy the lives of educators and embarrass the students.  Such actions only undo the good changes and improvements that may be happening in a district.  And such actions only throw more fuel on the fire regarding public perceptions of failing schools and incapable educators.  Instead of everyone winning by some short-term student gains, everyone — particularly the students — loses when details and stories such as these go public.
Yes, we feel better when it is one isolated teacher or school that engages in such behavior, versus an entire district that uses rubber gloves to eliminate fingerprints and allegedly handed out cheat sheet transparencies to make changing answers that much easier.  We don’t want to believe that such actions can be systemic.  Now Atlanta has shown us otherwise.
What comes next?  We are already hearing of potential criminal charges and calls for the denial of pensions and benefits down in Atlanta.  But such does little to help those students who were positioned as part of the Atlanta “miracle” only to find they aren’t quite as proficient as they once believed.  The students are the real victims here, and punishing individual teachers does little to make them whole or to fix the underlying issue.  In what will clearly be “I was just following orders” defense, a few administrators will take the fall, with the rest left to pick up the pieces.
But it begs an important question — what if all of that time and effort was put into actually teaching the students?  What if instead of the “changing parties” educators used the time for additional tutoring or instruction for the students?  
Then again, Atlanta could have always done what so many other states and districts did during the NCLB era — just lower its standards.  It is much easier to just lower the bar, year after year, rather than look for way to enhance performance through answer-changing methods.  I guess lowering the bar is just so 2005.

$4B vs. $4B

It appears that not all pots of $4 billion are created equal, at least not according to EdSec Arne Duncan.  Out at the Education Writers Association conference last week, Duncan was scratching his head regarding an interesting paradox.  We talk, ad nauseam, about the $4 billion the federal government has committed to the 12 states that won Race to the Top (RttT).  But why do we say virtually nothing about the $4 billion available through the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program that is serving the lowest 5 percent of all schools in the county?

Between the lines of his question, Duncan seemed to be saying that SIG, at its heart, could ultimately have more of an impact on student achievement across the nation than our deal ol’ RttT.  After all, every state can get a piece of SIG.  SIG is targeted specifically at boosting student achievement (as opposed to Race’s multiple goals and objectives).  And ED even has specific expectations and measures to determine SIG effectiveness out of the gate.
So why is SIG not getting the love from the media or from school improvement folks that RttT is?  First and foremost, Race is sexy.  Huge dollars for a small group of states to think big thoughts and do interesting things.  A competitive process that made all states equals, where a state like Delaware can best a state like California.  The political intrigue of what states won, what states lost, and why.  A public scoring process similar to the Miss America pageant.  And repeated mentions of the promise of RttT in presidential speeches, State of the Unions, and now multiple budgets.  Obama loves Race, but seems ambivalent about SIG.
Despite all of its upside and potential as a real change agent, SIG remains a bastard stepchild in the process.  We want to talk about those states that are “winning,” not those schools that are our lowest performing.  We want to focus on best of class.  And those individual SIG grants ultimately pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars one particular state won in RttT competition.
It really is a shame, though.  Duncan is right; $4 billion isn’t necessarily created equal.  While Race may be a nice showhorse in the great education reform parade, SIG has is the real workhorse.  When we look at the numbers and see the challenges before our schools — particularly those serving historically disadvantaged populations — it is SIG that is going to make the real difference. 
At a time when we are lamenting education programs that have had their $20 or $25 million appropriation eliminated by the President or Congress (depending on your perspective), don’t we need a little more attention on the $4 billion that is being committed to help our truly struggling schools?  Talking about the fun a dozen states may have spending their RttT largesse is fun, but the truly interesting stories are likely what those SIG schools are actually doing to change the fates and futures of the kids who walk through their doors.

Standards or Curriculum, Curriculum or Standards?

Over at ASCDedge (a professional networking community managed by, of course, ASCD), Steven Weber reflects on recent Education Week coverage on the topic of Common Core State Standards and how it relates to curriculum.  One of the key questions Weber asks those in “the community” is “Do you think that the Common Core State Standards are curriculum or do you believe there is a distinct difference between standards and curriculum?”

When I was out at ASCD last week, I heard some very similar concerns from educators across the country.  Lots of teachers freaked out by CCSSI because they believe it is the “new curriculum” to go with the new world order likely coming through the reauthorization of ESEA.
If one ventures over to the CCSSI website, it is nearly impossible to even find the word “curriculum.”  In describing what CCSSI is, the good folks at National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are pretty darned clear about what common standards are, and curriculum ain’t it.  Just take a look at the description:

The standards are informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world, and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn. Consistent standards will provide appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:

    • Are aligned with college and work expectations;
    • Are clear, understandable and consistent;
    • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
    • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
    • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
    • Are evidence-based.

Lots on skill.  Lots on standards.  Nothing about curriculum.  The closest we have is they are built upon current state standards, which in theory tie to current state curriculum.  But is there anyone who believes that the hodgepodge of current state standards is very definition of a model curriculum?
So why the confusion and the concern?  First and foremost, it is driven by a lack of information.  CCSSI was released nearly a year ago, and virtually every state in the union has signed onto the movement.  But beyond those policymakers who put their states into the CCSSI camp and those consultants who wrote Race to the Top applications pledging to follow the Common Standards, few actually know what this means.  We’ve signed on to CCSSI, the thought process goes, so now what?
In the absence of information, we make it up.  We know CCSSI isn’t assessment and tests, because we have federally funded tests aligned with CCSSI currently under development.  But the feds don’t develop curriculum.   So we have a choice.  Vendors claiming their products are the CCSSI curriculum or the notion that CCSSI is the curriculum itself.  And while many vendors may be quick to claim CCSSI alignment, no one has yet been bold enough to claim they are the embodiment of the curriculum itself.  The only remaining choice, then, is that the standards must be the curriculum.  After all, what value is the alignment of product if it isn’t aligned to both the standard and the curriculum?
We all know that moving the concept of common core state standards into practice is going to take time.  We have standards.  We are developing tests.  It is now likely going to take us a few years to develop a curriculum (particularly with the 15% add ons most states will take advantage of) and then create the professional developments and supports to go with it.  Yet here we stand, expecting all of this to take hold in a matter of months, rather than the years it typically takes the education community to get up to speed.
Before we rush to accept national standards as a new curriculum, it seems we need to ask ourselves one important question.  Do national standards mean a national curriculum, or is curriculum best left to localities and teachers to determine?  Seems CCSSI is all about providing us one universal yardstick, but it should be left up to the user to determine how to hit a given mark.

Deliverin’ in the Pelican State

We often hear about how the latest and greatest in education reforms are happening down in the bayou.  For the past half-decade, New Orleans has been the place to set up shop if you have an idea to reform a school district, train a better teacher, or close an achievement gap.  You simply aren’t on the reform map if you don’t have a footprint in the Big Easy.

But there is a lot of interesting things happening across Louisiana.  A few years back, Eduflack had the privilege of working with the state department of education, along with educators and business leaders, to strengthen the high school experience, toughen graduation standards, and generally get more Louisiana students career and college ready.  That work, along with similar work done by groups like SREB, is happening across the state.
So it was no surprise to see the latest coming from Louisiana.  In Education Week this week, Louisiana State Supe Paul Pastorek and Sir Michael Barber, the founder of the U.S. Education Delivery Institute, place their flag in the ground to tell us how a “delivery unit” is being used to improve the education system.
I know, the first question is, what the heck is education delivery?  According to the U.S. Education Delivery Institute U.S. Education Delivery Institute, when states are ready to implement a reform agenda, delivery:
is defined as ‘a systematic process for driving progress and delivering results in government and the public sector.’  At the heart of the delivery approach is a set of tools, processes, and a common language for implementation.  Key features include prioritizing clear goals, understanding how services reach various constituents, projecting anticipated progress toward goals, gauging impact through real-time data, and regularly taking stock to intervene when necessary.
Essentially, it is a data-driven GPS for state-based school reform.  Plug in the intended destination (improved literacy rates, boosted high school grad rates, etc.) and the delivery model helps guide you to the destination, while adjusting for the changes you may face on your path.  It isn’t the reform, but it is what keep the reform moving forward.
Barber developed and refined the process “across the pond,” where he headed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit.  But it is still relatively unknown here in the States.  So in their piece, Pastorek and Barber lay out the five key questions they are often confronted when talking about Delivery in Louisiana (after, of course, that introductory question, of “huh?”)
* What are you trying to do?
* How are you trying to do it?
* How will you know at any given moment whether you are on track?
* If you are not on track to achieve your goal, what are you going to do about it?
* The Delivery Unit should always ask the goal leaders and superintendent, “how can we help?
With 11 states ramping up their Race to the Top reform efforts (yes, DC, I’ll count you in the state pile), with other states moving forward with their reform efforts, despite the enticing carrot RttT offers, and with virtually all states trying to figure out how to keep up with the Joneses during these challenging economic times, the Louisiana Delivery model is an interesting concept.  We spend so much time talking about what we should reform, but so little time, if any, talking about how we get to the intended goal.  Could there be a proven model that can guide states and large school districts in a meaningful, productive way?
Pastorek sure seems to think so.  And EDI reports it is also working with Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.  So we’ve got a bunch of RttT winners, the top state in education standards, and a long-time leader in forward-looking school reform.  These folks may actually be on to something.

Celebrating the Science Fair

During his State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama showed the love for the science fair, saying winners of the science fair deserve the same kudos as winners of the Super Bowl.  But this week, The New York Times has an article detailing how the American science fair is on the decline, placing the blame at the feet of the U.S. Department of Education and its policies on student achievement and accountability and the fact that science fairs take up a lot of work, both for the teacher and the student.

Personally, Eduflack is sick and tired of hearing accountability (and its bastard step-sister AYP) for being blamed for all that ails our schools.  Anyone who has been a part of a successful science fair experience knows that doing so improves both student learning and student achievement.  Done effectively, science fairs can spur a love for learning, better engage students in the classroom (beyond just the science classroom), and instill the sort of 21st century skills we are seeking from our students.  And we won’t even talk about those pesky science accountability requirements that are supposed to be coming online any year now.
Believe it or not, Eduflack knows of what he speaks this time around.  Yes, I am a former science fair geek.  In fact, I once was the grand prize winner for the West Virginia State Science Fair.  I competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair (and even took home an award).  My project?  A study in behavioral science, looking at the impact of verbal conditioning (both good and bad) and human subjects of different ages.  (And for those who care, I found that positive verbal conditioning had far more impact than negative, even on my youngest test subjects.)
There is no doubt that science fairs can be time consuming.  A good project requires a great deal of work from the student, from the student’s science teacher, and from all of the teachers and community members who help assemble and judge the fair itself.  But it is one of those efforts where the payoff far exceeds the cost.  Students learn to work beyond the textbook, thinking critically and solving real problems relevant to them.  They are experimenting and writing and orally presenting and figuring out how to visually depict their project and its findings.  They are seeing something through from start to finish, and they are getting supports from their teachers every step along the way.  In many ways, it is instruction the way we all intended it — project based, relevant, comprehensive, measurable, and with long-term impact.
Perhaps President Obama is wrong.  We shouldn’t be celebrating the winners of science fairs … we should be celebrating all of those who take the time to experiment and compete in the first place.  We should be finding ways to support teachers in the process, giving them the time and resources to integrate fairs into the instructional day.  We should be projecting the value of the science fair, not seeing it as an extracurricular burden but rather as a terrific tool for inspiring creativity and exploration in students, particularly those who are not the science “whiz kids” as defined by test scores or AP classes.  And we should be thanking all of those teachers who continue to do whatever it takes to keep this wonderful practice alive, despite the added burdens and added hours associated with the science fair.
As a former competitor and a former winner, Eduflack thanks you.

Your Senate GOP ESEA Reform Starting Lineup

All week, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) has been talking about his accelerated plans for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  We are hearing of deadline like Easter for when the Senate will either entertain a new draft of the reauth, pass the reauth, or acknowledge the reauth.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of details as to what may be in Chairman Harkin’s ESEA bill.  Eduflack suspects it will resemble the ESEA Blueprint put forward by the U.S. Department of Education nearly a year ago, with some emphasis on rural education and special education mixed in for good measure.  The naming, last month, of Senator Jeff Bingaman (NM) as Harkin’s ESEA wingman only strengthens the thinking on the Blueprint approach to reauth.
Well, it seems the Republican side of the HELP desk is not going to be left at the side of the road.  In a briefing with reporters this week, HELP Ranking Member Mike Enzi (WY) and his education wingman and former Ed Sec Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) highlighted their “nine areas” to address in reauth.
The Senate GOP starting lineup for ESEA reform includes:
* Fixing the 100-percent proficient by 2014 goal (now that we see we can’t reach it)
* Reforming that darned AYP designation, an acronym that ED won’t even utter these days
* Refocusing on results-based testing, as opposed to that worrisome high-stakes testing
* Showing the rural districts some love
* Fixing high quality teacher provisions, particularly for those rural districts
* Offering greater flexibility to states and school districts
* IDing duplicative or wasteful efforts in ED
* Providing greater flexibility in general
* Engaging parents and families in the process
So is this the sort of staring lineup that strikes fear in the opposing team?  At face value, these are all items we’ve heard before.  But sometimes, a team is far greater than its individual players, and this could very well be the case with Enzi and Alexander’s concerns.  The list is a major hat tip to EdSec Arne Duncan’s Blueprint, particularly the revised language he has been touting since the November 2010 midterm elections.  There is some major love here for House Republicans, particularly the calls for flexibility, local control, and rural schools.  Even a little something for the teachers unions, by acknowledging that the current approach to student testing just doesn’t work and current HQT provisions missed the mark.  
And it also embraces one of the strongest components of NCLB — parental engagement — and incredibly powerful tool that was all but abandoned (other than on the school choice issue) soon after NCLB was passed in 2002.
What is the expected outcome?  Chairman Harkin is still writing the law, let there be no doubt.  But by placing their markers down like this, Enzi and Alexander have set the ESEA agenda.  Most, if not all, of these issues were likely to be on Harkin’s wish list in the first place.  Now, his draft will either need to signal an alignment with GOP concerns, or he will need to defend why these issues don’t warrant his attention.  And that’s a game no HELP chairman should want to play.
It is time for that Harkin trial balloon. 

Does Quality Count in Our Schools?

Yesterday, Education Week released its annual edu-stats extravaganza, Quality Counts.  The 2011 edition of Quality Counts, Uncertain Forecast: Education Adjusts to a New Economic Reality, hits on all of the usual topics, with a special emphasis on the economy and its impact on education.

Once again, Maryland is tops in the nation when it comes to education policy and performance, earning a B-plus (87.6 overall).  It is followed at the top of the list by New York (B, 84.7), Massachusetts (B, 82.6), Virginia (B-minus, 81.8), and Florida (B-minus, 81.5).
Nebraska rounds out the bottom of the list, earning a D-plus (68.6).  The Huskers were just edged out by DC (D-plus, 69.1), South Dakota (D-plus, 69.2), Mississippi (C-minus, 70.0), and Montana (C-minus, 70.4).
In the individual categories, Massachusetts was tops for “Chance for Success,” earning a A, while Nevada was last with a D and the U.S. average was a C-plus.  In “K-12 Achievement,” Massachusetts was again number one with a B, while New Mexico, Louisiana, DC, West Virginia, and Mississippi all earned Fs (with a national average of just D-plus).
For “Transitions and Alignment” (meaning early childhood ed, college readiness, and the economy and workforce), Arkansas, Maryland, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia all earned As.  Nebraska scored an F, with a U.S. average of C-plus.  And in “School Finance,” Wyoming was tops with a A-minus as Idaho scored a D-minus, with a C as the national average.
Perhaps one of the most interesting tools EdWeek offers is the State Report Cards, which can be found here.
Video highlights of the day’s program can also be found here, taken from yesterday’s live stream.
And what are the big takeaways?
* Despite the rhetoric, we have only seen minimal impact of the economic stimulus on the schools.  As EdWeek has often reported, much of the stimulus money is still being held back by the states, as they prepare for worsening days.  
* But it was surprising to learn how strong an impact education has had on the stimulus’ success.  For every million dollars spent in education stimulus, the nation created or saved 4.2 jobs.  That is almost twice the job  impact of stimulus spending in general.
* Once you carve away all of the stimulus-speak, the academic results remain quite disappointing.  On average, our states are earning a C, and that is likely a gentleman’s C at best.  Not a single state earns an overall A.  Only four states earn an A or A-minus for “Chance for Success.”  No states earn an A for “K-12 Achievement.”  And just one earns better than a B-plus for “School Finance.”
As we ask whether Quality Counts, it is clear that too many of our states are still struggling with basic math.  One doesn’t have to be a teacher to realize that this is not a report card any kid would want to bring home.  The only saving grace for even the top states is that we are grading on a very generous curve.  States that did well should be proud of their progress, but no one should be content with where their individual numbers stand.
Ultimately, Quality Counts provides a roadmap for where we have to head to achieve success.  If we are to read the roadmarkers correctly in this year’s edition, we can see that states are paying greater attention to issues like standards and accountability today, and we can only hope that that focus results in improved achievement and better QC grades in the years to come.

Looking for Online Learning Exemplars

Without question, K-12 virtual education opportunities are gaining more and more attention as late.  Earlier this month, the Digital Learning Council — under the leadership of former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise — released its Digital Learning Now! report.  In it, the new group offered up its 10 elements of high-quality digital education.

The 10 elements are core to learning success, whether it be digital or otherwise.  By focusing on issues such as student eligibility, student access, personalized learning, advancement, content, instruction, providers, assessment and accountability, funding, and delivery, the DLC makes clear that digital learning is central to the 21st century learning environment.  Online learning is no longer a topic left to the periphery.  It is core to modern-day instruction.
But the DLC’s outline of how begs a very important question — who?  This week, Eduflack was talking with a school district that is quite interested in expanding its digital learning offerings and take a major step forward in offering e-instruction and online offerings to its students.  Anticipating the time and expense involved in such forward progress, school officials were looking to do some site visits with other school districts in state.  The list of “success stories” was relatively short, but a few districts kept popping up.
After some exploration, though, a big problem arose.  The districts that were identified as best practice for online learning in the state were districts that failed to meet AYP this year.  Knowing that, can one look to model instructional practice from a district that can’t make adequate yearly progress?  It might not be fair, but AYP is the most important measure a school district faces today.  Any step one takes to improve or enhance instruction should result in improved student achievement.
It would be terrific if every state were a state like Florida, with a strong and successful online learning network that can be modeled and borrowed and stolen from.  But in this day and age, we first look to our own backyards to see what is done, particularly as we emphasize the need to demonstrate proficiency on state assessment exams.  So while we’d all love to replicate what the Florida Virtual School may be doing, we’re first going to look at what the neighboring county or the district with similar demographics on the other side of the state is up to.
It is no secret that K-12 education believes in modeling.  Few want to be first to market; everyone wants to do what a fellow successful state, district, school, or teacher is doing.  This is particularly true for digital learning, where so few truly understand it and so few are actually doing it well.  So how do we know who is an appropriate model?  Where is it happening in a district, a school, and with kids like mine?  And how do we determine if a district is indeed worth modeling?
Eduflack is all ears for those who want to identify examples of school districts who have been particularly successful in developing online learning programs, particularly those LEAs who can demonstrate return on their investment, both in usage and in student achievement.  Who wants in?  Where are our exemplars for district-based online learning programs?